Apple’s next big thing could be locking reckless drivers out of their cars

Apple Car Key
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple is considering locking you out of your car – and for good reason.

A new patent uncovered by Patently Apple shows the iPhone maker looking to enhance its Car Keys feature (which uses NFC to turn your iPhone or Apple Watch into a digital car key) by introducing a breathalyzer feature built into your phone.

Designed to deter drinking and driving, it would lock a user out of their car if high levels of blood alcohol are recognised by the phone, watch or connected accessory.

It builds on an earlier patent, revealed in early 2021, which would see the iPhone and Apple Watch tap into “database information” that would “contain information pertaining to human breath characteristics such as typical ammonia levels, acceptable alcohol levels for driving, etc. (e.g., so a user can compare infrared spectra obtained when the target object of interest is that user's breath and/or the user's mouth to human breath data from the database)."

Testing the breath may not be enough to satisfy the app in some occasions, either. The patent describes situations where a user may be tasked with completing a mental challenge, such as a dexterity task or maths problem, to assure the app they are fit to drive. Better crib up on that mental arithmetic, then.

Safety first

Apple isn’t alone in thinking about turning the iPhone into a personal breathalyzer. Third party options, such as the BACtrack and AlcoDigital NEO have been knocking around for some time, and take advantage of an iPhone’s processing power to deliver speedy booze-level results direct to your phone.

However, they make use of external accessories to take their measurements, which aren’t too far off the size of the phone themselves, and come at not inconsiderable cost.

At present, Apple’s previous patents suggest that either the iPhone itself or an external device could be used to take advantage of the proposed breathalyzer feature – though exactly how such tech would be miniaturised for a smartphone remains to be seen.

It’s excellent to see Apple at least acknowledging the danger of drunk driving as it takes further steps into the world of cars. In the USA, an estimated 28 people a day die in drink-driving related accidents, with non-fatal collisions many multiples higher. Smart anti-drink driving campaigns in the UK have seen the number across the pond drop significantly since the 1970s, but that an average of 230 drink-driving related deaths per year are still reported.

But the success of such a feature will still be reliant on a user’s self awareness – they’ll still need to activate a breathalyzer, knowing full well that a failed result could lock them out of their cars until they’ve sobered up. That prospect may be enough to turn reckless drivers off of the concept altogether.

As ever, a patent only represents an exploration and protection of an idea, rather than a statement of intent to produce said idea. But with two patents in relatively quick succession looking at drink driving, it would appear Apple is taking this one seriously.

Gerald Lynch

Gerald is Editor-in-Chief of Previously he was the Executive Editor for TechRadar, taking care of the site's home cinema, gaming, smart home, entertainment and audio output. He loves gaming, but don't expect him to play with you unless your console is hooked up to a 4K HDR screen and a 7.1 surround system. Before TechRadar, Gerald was Editor of Gizmodo UK. He is also the author of 'Get Technology: Upgrade Your Future', published by Aurum Press.